High-Yield MLPs to Buy as Oil Prices Climb

The following is an excerpts from 7 High-Yield MLPs to Buy as Oil Prices Climb, originally published on Kiplinger’s.

After close of a decade of uninterrupted bull market, it’s hard to find many stocks that truly qualify as cheap today. But not everything is pricey – you can still find values if you know where to look. And oil and gas master limited partnerships (MLPs), as a sector, are a screaming buy at today’s prices.

A combination of low interest rates, a shrinking pool of available shares due to buybacks and mergers, and a general lack of investable alternatives have all conspired to create one of the most expensive markets history.

To put numbers to it, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index’s cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio (“CAPE”), which compares a 10-year average of corporate earnings to today’s share prices, clocks in at 31. That’s late 1997 levels. Meanwhile, the S&P 500’s price-to-sales ratio recently hit 2.0, putting it on par with its levels in 2000 … at the peak of the greatest bubble in market history.

However, pipeline MLPs are looking inexpensive at the same time they’re exhibiting greater quality. After a couple difficult years in 2014 and 2015, MLPs have gotten their leverage under control and started funding their growth projects with internally generated cash flow rather than new debt.

“After several years of deleveraging and structural simplifications – which unfortunately came with distribution reductions in several cases – MLPs as an asset class are in the best financial health we’ve seen in a long time with an increased focus on per unit returns and self-funding capital expenditures,” explains John Musgrave, Co-Chief Investment Officer of Cushing Asset Management. ”And based on current price-to-DCF and EV-to-EBITDA multiples, MLPs are exceptionally cheap by the standards of the past 10 years.”

For a blue-chip MLP play, consider Enterprise Products Partners LP (EPD).

Enterprise Products is one of the oldest and best-respected MLPs you’re ever going to find. In an industry that has traditionally been run by cowboy capitalists, Enterprise has managed to stay remarkably level headed over the years and as reliable as Old Faithful.

Chase Robertson, Chairman of Houston, Texas-based RIA Robertson Wealth Management, says, “Enterprise Products Partners has been a core holding of our income portfolios for over a decade. It’s been a dependable workhorse for us, consistently raising its distribution like clockwork.”

Since going public in 1998, Enterprise has grown into one of the largest energy infrastructure companies in the world with approximately 50,000 miles of natural gas, natural gas liquids, crude oil and refined products pipelines and 260 million barrels of storage capacity.

Furthermore, Enterprise has eliminated the single biggest conflict of interest that has long plagued the MLP space: incentive distribution rights (IDRs). In a traditional IDR arrangement, the MLP’s general partner takes a disproportionate share of any distribution hikes to shareholders, which incentivizes them to bet the farm by raising distributions at an unsustainable pace. EPD and MMP eliminated IDRs years ago, which partly explains their more conservative profile.

Enterprise Products has raised its distribution every year since its 1998 IPO, and over the past decade, its annual distribution hikes have averaged just under 6%. At today’s prices, EPD shares yield 6.4%, which is exceptionally high by this MLP’s standards.

To finish reading the article, see 7 High-Yield MLPs to Buy as Oil Prices Climb.

Disclosures: Long EPD, ETE at time of writing.

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as High-Yield MLPs to Buy as Oil Prices Climb

Oddball Dividend Stocks With Big Yields

 

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The following is an excerpt from 5 “Oddball” Dividend Stocks With Big Yields, originally published on Kiplinger’s.

It’s not the easiest market out there for income investors. With bond yields being depressed for so many years (and still extremely low by any historical standard) investors have scoured the globe for yield, which has pushed the yields on many traditional income investments – namely, bonds and dividend stocks – to levels far too low to be taken seriously.

Even after rising over the past several months, the yield on the 10-year Treasury is still only 2.9%, and the 30-year Treasury yields all of 3.2%. (Don’t spend that all in one place!) The utility sector, which many investors have been using as a bond substitute, yields only 3.4%. Yields on real estate investment trusts (REITs) are almost competitive at 4.4%, but only when you consider the low-yield competition.

Bond yields have been rising since September, due in part to expectations of greater economic growth and the inflation that generally comes with it. This has put pressure on all income-focused stocks. This little yield spike might not be over just yet, either – especially if inflation creeps higher this year.

Even if bond yields top out today and start to drift lower rather than higher, yields just aren’t high enough in most traditional income sectors to be worthwhile. So today, we’re going to cast the net a little wider. We’re going to take a look at five quirky dividend stocks that are a little out of the mainstream. Our goal is to secure high yields while also allowing for fast enough dividend growth to stay in front of inflation.

The GEO Group

Few companies are as quirky – or have quite the pariah status – as The GEO Group (GEO). GEO is a private operator of prisons that is organized as a real estate investment trust, or REIT.

Yes, it’s a prison REIT.

Prison overcrowding has been a problem for years. It seems that while getting tough on crime is popular with voters, paying the bill to build expensive new prisons is not.

This is about as far from a feel-good stock as you can get. It ranks alongside tobacco stocks on the scale of political incorrectness. The sheer ugliness of its business partially explains why it sports such a high dividend yield at well above 8%.

It’s also worth noting that this stock is riskier than everything else on this list. The U.S. is slowly moving in the direction of legalization of soft drugs like marijuana. While full legalization at the federal level isn’t yet on the horizon, you have to consider that a significant potential risk to GEO’s business model. Roughly half of all prisoners in federal prisons are there on drug-related convictions. At the state level, that number is about 16%.

GEO likely would survive drug legalization, as the privatization of public services is part of a bigger trend for cash-strapped governments. But it would definitely slow the REIT’s growth and it would seriously raise questions of dividend sustainability.

Furthermore, prison properties have very little resale value. You can turn an old warehouse into a trendy urban apartment building. But a prison? That’s a tougher sell.

So again, GEO is a riskier pick. But with a yield of more than 8%, you’re at least getting paid well to accept that risk.

To read the rest of the article, please see  5 “Oddball” Dividend Stocks With Big Yields,

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as Oddball Dividend Stocks With Big Yields

LyondellBasell: THIS Is What Buybacks Are Supposed to Look Like

Stock buybacks get a bad reputation — and justifiably so. It seems that for most companaies, a share repurchase is little more than an expensive mop to soak up share dilution from executive stock options or other share-based compensation.

So, it’s refreshing to see a company like LyondellBasell Industries (LYB). When Lyondell announces a share buyback, they mean it. The company has reduced its share count by about 10% per year for the past three years while also raising its dividend by nearly 20% per year.

That’s a company that takes care of its shareholders.

I recently added LyondellBasel to my Dividend Growth portfolio.

Disclosures: Long LYB

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as LyondellBasell: THIS Is What Buybacks Are Supposed to Look Like

Why Dividends Matter

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I like getting paid in cold, hard cash. And frankly, who doesn’t?

But stock dividends are more than just a quarterly paycheck. They are a way of doing things. I would go so far as to argue that they are a philosophy of life (or at least of business).

That might sound a little kooky at first, but hear me out.

In the Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort (or at least Leonardo DiCaprio playing Belfort) says that money does more than just buy you a better life; it also makes you a better person. That’s certainly debatable. But I can credibly say that paying a dividend makes for a better kind of company. And here are a few reasons why:

  1. Dividends are an outward, visible sign of who the real boss is. Remember, the SEO in the suit running the company isn’t the owner. He’s an employee, no different than a common assembly line worker other than for his larger paycheck. You, the shareholder, own the company. And management shows that they understand and respect that by regularly paying and raising the quarterly dividend.
  2. Dividends dissuade fruitless empire building. Corporate CEOs really aren’t that different from politicians. At the end of the day, they spend other people’s money and often times waste it on useless projects or on mergers that add no value. Why? Because growth – even unprofitable growth – gives them more power and control. Well, paying a regular dividend forces management to be more disciplined. If you’re paying out half your profits as a dividend, you have to be more selective about the growth projects you choose to pursue with your remaining cash. They focus on the most profitable and worthwhile and, by necessity, pass on the marginal ones.
  3. Dividends foster more honest financial reporting. At one point or another, many (if not most) companies will… ahem… perhaps be a little less than honest in their financial reporting. Outright fraud is pretty rare. But accounting provisions allow for a decent bit of wiggle room in how revenues and profits are reported. Even professionals can have a hard time figuring out what a company’s true financial position is if the numbers are fuzzy enough. Well, while revenues and profits can be obfuscated by dodgy accounting, it’s hard to fudge the numbers when it comes to cold, hard cash. For a company to pay a dividend, it has to have the cash in the bank. So while paying a good dividend is no guarantee that the company isn’t being a little aggressive with its accounting, it definitely acts as an additional check.
  4. Share buybacks – the main alternative to cash dividends – never quite seem to work out as planned. Companies inevitably do their largest share repurchases when times are good, they are flush with cash, and their stock is sitting near new highs. But when the economy hits a rough patch, sales slow, and the stock price falls, the buybacks dry up. And another (and frankly insidious) motivation for buybacks is to “mop up” share dilution from executive stock options and employee stock purchase plans. The net effect is that a company buys their shares high and sells them back to employees and insiders low. Call me crazy, but I thought the whole idea of investing was to buy low and sell high, not the other way around. A better and more consistent use of cash would be the payment of a cash dividend.
  5. And finally, we get to stock returns. I’m not particularly excited about the prospects for the stock market at today’s prices. Based on the cyclically adjusted price/earnings ratio, the S&P 500 is priced to deliver annual returns of virtually zero over the next decade. But if you’re getting a dividend check every quarter, you’re still able to realize a respectable return, even if the market goes nowhere. And that return is real, in cold hard cash, and not ephemeral like paper capital gains.

Hey, not every great company pays a dividend. And certainly, a younger company that is struggling to raise capital to grow has no business paying out its precious cash as a dividend when it might need it to keep the lights on next month. But for the bulk of your stock portfolio – the core positions that really make up your nest egg – look for companies that have a long history of paying and raising their dividends.

Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA is the principal of Sizemore Capital, an investments firm in Dallas, Texas.

 

Blast from the Past: Walmart Dividend Letter from 1985

I was digging through an old file cabinet that had belonged to my grandfather, and I found this little blast from the past: a Walmart (WMT) letter to shareholders from 1985, signed by Chairman and company founder Sam Walton.

As a child in the 1980s, I actually remember my grandfather proudly showing me a paper certificate for his shares of Walmart stock, and I remember the day he went electronic by handing the paper certificates to the trust department at the bank. He wasn’t sure he trusted the system and made sure to photocopy his certificates before handing them over…just in case.

Paper stock certificates seem so anachronistic today in this age of online trading and instant liquidity. It makes me wonder how different the world of trading and investment will be when my future grandchildren are going through a drawer of my personal effects.

1985 Walmart Dividend Letter

The truth is, I’m not sure how beneficial instant liquidity is in building long-term wealth. In fact, it’s probably downright detrimental. When my grandfather bought his shares of Walmart, the high cost of trading discouraged him from short-term trading. As a result, he was a de facto long-term investor, which ended up working out to his benefit as Walmart grew into one of the largest and most successful companies in history. Long after my grandfather passed away, the cash dividends from the Walmart stock he accumulated in his lifetime continued to pay for the retirement expenses of my grandmother–and for my college tuition! Had my grandfather had access to the instant liquidity of today, he might have been tempted to sell far too early.

My grandfather also practiced his own version of Peter Lynch’s advice to invest in what you know long before Peter Lynch became a household name. He was an Arkansas boy–born and raised not far from Fort Smith–and he liked to invest in local companies that he could observe firsthand. Walmart was one of those local companies; its headquarters in Bentonville is less than an hour and a half from Fort Smith by car.

I remember fondly my grandfather taking me to Fort Smith’s Walmart and buying me an Icee at the snack bar. He liked to walk the aisles personally to see what Mr. Walton was doing with his money. That might seem a little old fashioned today, but then, it’s still the approach taken by Warren Buffett and by plenty of long-term value investors. If done right, it works.

Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA, is chief investment officer of the investment firm Sizemore Capital Management and the author of the Sizemore Insights blog.